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We examine a crucial aspect of a tool intended to support designing for feel: the ability of an objective physical-model identification method to capture perceptually relevant parameters, relative to human identification performance. The feel of manual controls, such as knobs, sliders, and buttons, becomes critical when these controls are used in certain settings. Appropriate feel enables designers to create consistent control behaviors that lead to improved usability and safety. For example, a heavy knob with stiff detents for a power plant boiler setting may afford better feedback and safer operations, whereas subtle detents in an automobile radio volume knob may afford improved ergonomics and driver attention to the road. To assess the quality of our identification method, we compared previously reported automated model captures for five real mechanical reference knobs with captures by novice and expert human participants who were asked to adjust four parameters of a rendered knob model to match the feel of each reference knob. Participants indicated their satisfaction with the matches their renderings produced. We observed similar relative inertia, friction, detent strength, and detent spacing parameterizations by human experts and our automatic estimation methods. Qualitative results provided insight on users' strategies and confidence. While experts (but not novices) were better able to ascertain an underlying model in the presence of unmodeled dynamics, the objective algorithm outperformed all humans when an appropriate physical model was used. Our studies demonstrate that automated model identification can capture knob dynamics as perceived by a human, and they also establish limits to that ability; they comprise a step towards pragmatic design guidelines for embedded physical interfaces in which methodological expedience is informed by human perceptual requirements.
Date of Publication: Oct.-Dec. 2009